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The Essential A-Z Of Photography Slang

Are you often confused by some of the things your photographer friends say? Like any hobby or pastime, there are common photography terms that we all come to learn, and then there is some of the more bizarre slang you can spend a lifetime behind the lens never understanding. Below we’ve compiled a collection of common photography slang and obscure camera acronyms to help lift the veil on their mystery.

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A loose term to describe an element that degrades picture quality. Anything from the blockiness that can occur when pictures are heavily compressed as JPEGs, to the distortion to pictures that occurs with heavy manipulation – even the effect you see with lens flare.


All The Gear, No Idea. A photographer who has lots of camera equipment but doesn’t know what half of it does. A bit of an Uncle Bob, in fact.


A rare acronym that you’ll only see floating around bird photography forums. There’s a clue right there: BIF stands for Bird in Flight, and is usually brought up during lengthy technical discussions about autofocus point selection and focus modes.


The Sigma 50-500mm f/4-6.3 lens earned the nickname ‘Bigma’ thanks to its considerable 10x zoom range and considerable proportions.

Blown out

Bright areas in a photo that are overexposed are said to be blown out. They won’t hold any detail and will be bleached white.


Pronounced ‘boh-kay’, this term is derived from the Japanese word for ‘blur’ and is used to describe the aesthetic quality of the blur in out-of-focus areas of a picture. The faster the lens, and the more aperture blades it has, the smoother the blur tends to be.


The act of looking at pictures on the back of the camera as soon as you’ve taken them, usually accompanied by lots of ‘ooh-ooh-oohing’, hence the name. Stand around chimping, and the chances are you’ll be missing some great photo opportunities kicking off right in front of you.


This is what happens to the histogram when you grossly overexpose or underexpose a picture. In an overexposed shot, the histogram will usually be bunched up on the right and parts of it will be ‘clipped’ off by the edge of the graph. If the histogram is bunched up on the left and clipped by the opposite side of the graph, this usually indicates an underexposed photo.


An acronym for Depth of Field, or the zone of perceived sharpness in a picture that extends out from the point of focus towards the camera, and beyond it, towards the horizon (for more on this, check out our guide to Depth of Field: what you need to know for successful images).


The name given to the ring-shaped bokeh created by the unique construction of a mirror lens.

Dust bunnies

In the wider world, dust bunnies are clumps of dust and fluff that you find drifting around wooden floors. In the camera world, dust bunnies are the annoying dots of sensor dust that show up in the same place in consecutive photos. These usually have to be removed manually (to find out how to do this, check out our safe guide to sensor cleaning).


An early and slightly derogatory acronym for what’s now widely known as CSC (Compact System Camera), EVIL stands for Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens.


A blip of flash to brighten up the shadows in a daylight picture is known as fill or fill-in flash. Set the flash to Slow Sync mode, and the camera will take care of this for you, automatically balancing the ambient light and flash (find out how to master fill flash in four easy steps).


Flare is a (usually unwanted) effect of having bright light sources in the frame, or just out of the frame. When the light source is in the frame, bright/coloured artifacts can be seen in the image. When the light source is just out of the frame but hitting the front element of the lens, it can make the picture appear hazy and washed out. Shielding the front of the lens with a lens hood or your hand can prevent this.


AKA ‘purple fringing’, this is the ghostly purple glow that can sometimes be seen around the edges of high contrast areas in digital pictures – compacts are particularly prone to it.


As in ‘that’s a lovely piece of glass’. Glass is another term for lenses, generally used by photographers that understand that quality of a lens matters more than the quality of the camera attached to it.


‘Grad’ is an abbreviation of ‘Graduated’ and is used to describe a type of optical filter which has a dark section and a clear section. These filters – commonly known as ND Grads – are used to balance the brightness in high-contrast scenes, usually landscapes, with the dark area placed over the bright sky and the clear section over the foreground

Grip and rip / Spray and pray

Both of these terms refer to the act of setting the camera to its highest continuous drive mode and keeping the shutter button held down to try and capture a fleeting moment. The theory is that the more frames you fill, the more chance there is of at least one of them being acceptably composed and sharp.


A term used to describe the glow that’s created around the edges of objects when they’ve been over-sharpened in Photoshop or other similar photo editing software.


Image Quality – you’ll often see this abbreviation used in online camera reviews.


A common file format for digital photographs. While most now know what this photography term is, many still don’t know that it gets its name from the Joint Photographic Experts Group that developed it, and that the JPEG file format allows files of colour photos to be compressed to a smaller digital file than if the full range of colours were to be saved.

Light bucket

Another term for a fast lens. Light bucket is also used to describe a photosite on a digital camera sensor (the element that ‘captures’ the light to make an exposure).

Long Tom

Rarely used by anyone other than the old guard of the photography world, ‘Long Tom’ can be used interchangeably for ‘telephoto lens’. The term is a direct reference to the Long Tom, a field gun used by the US Army during World World II.

Machine gunner

A photographer who takes 10 shots when they only need to take one. Machine gunners put their cameras in the fastest drive mode and invariably end up with memory cards full of duplicate images.

Magic hour/Golden hour

A term tossed about by earnest landscape photographers that refers to the time after dawn and before dusk where the sun tends to be at its warmest and most interesting. Shooting landscapes in this golden light gives pictures soul, man…

Marching ants

The dotted lines that flicker around areas that have been selected with the marquee tool in Photoshop.

Nifty fifty

A 50mm lens with a maximum aperture of f/1.8 of faster is known as a ‘nifty fifty’. Lenses in this range are fast, lightweight and frequently optically superb. But the best bit is the price. The f/1.8 and f/1.4 50mm lenses are often the best value bits of glass you can buy.


Picture noise is the digital equivalent of film grain, although nowhere near as appealing. Pictures become speckled and gritty as you increase the ISO sensitivity on the camera (because you’re essentially ‘turning up the volume’ on the light that’s being captured).


Out of Focus. An acronym often seen in online picture critiques As in “I like the way you’ve made the grass OOF”.


Easy one this – Pap is the shortened version of Paparazzo and Papping is what they get up to.

Pixel peeper

Someone who spends too much time looking at images files at 100% on their computer and assessing noise and resolution ‘at the pixel level’ rather than making pictures.


A lens with a fixed focal length (such as 20mm, 50mm, 80mm). Zoom lenses cover a range of focal lengths (such as 80-200mm). For more on primes, check out our… primer: 9 things you should know about using prime lenses.


As in “What does X button do? How do activate Y mode? Where do I find Z function in the menu?” “RTFM!”

Often spat in the direction of people who repeatedly ask questions about their camera functions on internet forums, RTFM stands for Read The Frikkin’ Manual (we’ve substituted one word here to protect fragile photographers).


An American term for a photographer who eats, drinks and sleeps photography. Shutterbugs carry a camera with them at all times and shoot absolutely everything without mercy.

Shutter nutter

The British version of shutterbug. Shutter nutters are slightly less refined than shutterbugs, however, and can often be found at cruising camera trade shows, repeatedly photographing ‘booth babes’.


An old photography slang term for developer.


A stop is a measure of exposure, usually referred to as ‘EV’ (Exposure Value) in cameras. The aperture, shutter speed and ISO settings on a camera can all be measured in stops, although the actual figures used are different across all three. Each stop represents a doubling or halving of exposure


The abbreviated form of ‘Photographer’ has become the Marmite of photography slang. You either love it or loathe it. It makes us feel slightly nauseous.

Touching up/retouching

The process of enhancing a picture in image editing software. This term is often used to describe the process of whitening eyes and teeth, and improving skin tone on a portrait, although the idea of ‘touching up a model’ is a little unsavory…

Uncle Bob

The name that wedding photographers give to a wedding guest who comes armed with a big DSLR, big lenses and expensive flash gun. Often used derogatorily, as in “A right Uncle Bob was always getting in my way.”


Acronym for Ultra Wide Angle lens.

Wide open

When a lens is set at its smallest f-number, such as f/2.8 or f/4, it’s being used ‘wide open’. At this point, the aperture (the hole in the lens) is at its maximum, letting in as much light as possible. Wide apertures mean shorter shutter speeds are required to take a picture, so lenses are often used wide open to take pictures of sport and action (to learn more about this, download our cheat sheet on when to use small or wide apertures).


A rare, pointlessly text speak-style abbreviation of ‘cross processing’.

Zoom creep

Not a dirty old man with a long lens, but rather what happens if you point a superzoom lens up or down, and the zoom position slowly shifts.

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